Mushroomhead – ‘A WONDERFUL LIFE’

By Ian Kenworthy

Think Mushroomhead and it is the garish masks and make-up that immediately spring to mind. Their music is a mix of industrial flavoured heavy metal, and since 1993 they have sold millions of records. Record number eight, ‘A Wonderful Life’, is their first in six years and is a bold statement that proves they are still relevant.

Built upon a blend of heavy industrial and nu-metal, the band’s music has always included elements of hip-hop, techno, and whatever else is popular (sometimes even in the same song). ‘A Requiem For Tomorrow’ opens up the record with a muscular thrill-ride in a similar vein, yet it feels like a fresh spin. You can’t fault this attitude and it is a credit to the band that they still fit so well into an ever-changing musical climate.

By bolting different elements to their underlying metal sound, Mushroomhead have created some really unusual soundscapes here, especially in songs like ‘Madness Within’ which is woven around a carnival of Marilyn Manson stylings and the ponderous doom-style chants of ‘The Time Has Come’. However, what makes the album stand out is the strong symphonic metal overtones. You can hear them clearly on the swelling strings running through ‘Pulse’ and the expansive piano-led  ‘Where The End Begins’, but the influence is everywhere, making for a rich and diverse experience that feels new and exciting.

Only half of the band’s eight members have contributed to any of the previous Mushroomhead albums, but the line-up changes have really shaped this record. Long-term vocalist Jeffery Hatrix has been replaced with Steve Rauckhorst who brings a powerful performance to choruses and verses. Similarly, returning rapper and screamer Jason Popson bites hard and really brings his A game, especially on songs like ‘What A Shame’. However, it is the addition of third vocalist Jackie LaPonza that adds a new dimension to the music, providing a rich choral sound to songs like ‘A Requiem For Tomorrow’ and taking centre stage on ‘Heresy’. The real highlights though are songs like ‘Carry On’ which make great use of the interplay between all three.

New guitarist Tommy Shaffner also makes his debut here and his presence is felt immediately, unleashing huge scuzzy riffs on nu-metal-esque ‘I Am The One’. Although he gets to show off his skills with the flashes and flourishes of ‘Madness Within’, as the record progresses his work becomes less important as piano-led ballads like ‘The Flood’ and ‘Where The End Begins’ take over.

Notably, there are some real curve balls thrown in, such as the church choir during morning mass sounding ‘Confutatis’ – a sound you wouldn’t normally associate with Mushroomhead. While it is surprising that the band manages to fit such left field pieces into a cohesive whole, there are places where the seams show through and could’ve potentially been smoothed over with a tighter runtime. It is also worth noting that three bonus tracks are included with some versions, swelling the track number to 17 which only exacerbates this minor problem.

Sadly, it’s difficult to talk about Mushroomhead without mentioning the other masked nu-metal band, but since Slipknot have always shared so many similarities in their aesthetic and music, it seems perverse not to. This record is not the same kind of arena-filling behemoth that Slipknot’s ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ is. In many ways, it shares the same sonic space, but is more experimental and daring too. So, while there is overlap, it would fill a different space in your record collection.

Ultimately ‘A Wonderful Life’ is a strong record, perhaps the strongest in the band’s catalogue. It takes a new approach to their established sound by creating a rich, modern tapestry that feels both fleshed out and exciting.


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